Background: I've worked in some form of retail now for over 40 years. I've been a door to door paperboy, collecting bills, I've been a grocery clerk, a jeweler, a car mechanic, and a bicycle mechanic. In every stop, I've had to deal directly with consumers. I base my opinions on my observations gained from "real world" experiences.
It wasn't really all that long ago when we were buying and selling in ways that had not fundamentally changed in generations. However; since the advent of the internet and its attendant devices, all that we once knew has either fallen by the wayside, changed fundamentally, or is still the same as it ever was. Let me explain.....
This was all started in my mind when I read the post on MTBR.com recently concerning "showrooming". This is a practice where a consumer will use product on the shelf of a retail store to get a feel for it, try it on, or research the product through questioning the store staff, and then using a smart phone or another internet capable device to "shop" for the lowest price for that item on-line. The consumer gets hands on experience and expert knowledge and advice from the brick and mortar while getting the best possible price on the product on-line, often with zero shipping charges.
Sounds like quite the deal if you are a person seeking a specialty retail type object and want to spend the least amount possible. And who doesn't, right? However; this this is a zero-sum game in the end. Specialty retail cannot subsist under such conditions if showrooming becomes the norm. In fact, something has to change, or both consumers and specialty retail will suffer loss eventually.
|Service is one thing you can't really "showroom".|
What to do? Well, this all being new frontier, everybody from the consumer to the distributor to the manufacturer is being shaken up a bit. The solution being pressed into service by some is called "Minimum Advertised Pricing", or MAP, for short. It is a radical change from what we used to see, which is "MSRP", (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Pricing"), which we all know by now that no one ever charges or buys at. MSRP has pretty much been made useless. MAP, on the other hand, would seem to be a more logical solution, but even that has its limitations, since someone is always going to want to compete, and undercut that base pricing, even if only by a few pennies. Take price matching, as a good example of this. Only by the vigilance of manufacturers and distributors would MAP even have a chance of being something worthwhile, if even then. In the meantime, we are left to navigate a new reality in retail where there seem to be no barriers to information to consumers like their used to be.
Meanwhile bicycle shops have to buckle down and do their business in a more efficient manner, but more importantly than ever- they have to create and maintain real relationships with their customers. In all my years of retail, my observation has been that if you have people in place on the sales floor that are good at sales, but even better at people skills, then you will have business from customers because they enjoy the relationship. Just like any relationship, there has to be good listening, good communication, and give and take. In my humble opinion, bicycle retail is woefully inadequate at most of those things on the whole. If they were not, you wouldn't keep hearing all the "bad LBS" stories you can so easily find on-line or down at the coffee shop.
Yes, there are good bicycle retailers, but there are too many bad ones, indifferent ones, and ignorant ones. While there are some tough new seas to navigate with regard to the "new retail", there are some good, solid, old school lessons that many folks would do well to put into practice. The basics should never go out of style, nor be forgotten, while new ways of doing business are developed. In fact, fundamentals of customer relations has not changed one bit.
That's my take......